Q&A with AHRA president Carlos Vasquez

July 11, 2013
by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor
Times are tough. And that’s partly why AHRA, the association for medical imaging management, a society for radiology administrators, says it has chosen Minneapolis as the site for its 41st annual meeting, which runs July 28-31. The city is in the middle of the country, affording convenient access to imaging center and department managers on both coasts.

“Minneapolis and its Convention Center offered tremendous value to our members and in this day and age of financial constraint, AHRA wanted to provide a destination to increase opportunity for greater attendance,” Carlos Vasquez, the 2012-2013 president of the association, tells DOTmed News.

The meeting, which expects around 1,000 imaging professionals and 200 exhibitors, offers sessions on dozens of topics of interest to radiology administrators, from MRI safety and radiation dose reduction to what new regulations will affect health care marketing. AHRA’s design team also worked to assemble an “industry-renowned” group of presenters, according to Vasquez.
Keynote speakers include Liz Jazwiec, an ER nurse and author of “Eat THAT Cookie”; Scott Christopher, a lecturer whose book “The Levity Effect: Why It Pays to Lighten Up” extols the business-boosting effects of humor; and Erik Wahl, a graffiti stage performer.

“Every attendee will be in for a treat and gain knowledge immediately applicable in their work,” Vasquez says.

For links lovers, on the morning of July 28, the association is also hosting its 14th annual Imaging Classic Golf Tournament at the Wild Golf Clubs southwest of the city. Proceeds from the tournament will support the AHRA Education Foundation, a 23-year-old organization that promotes management education for imaging professionals and awards scholarships to AHRA members to attend school or the annual meeting. As a lead-up to the show, DOTmed Business News had a question and answer session with Vasquez to get the latest about the association and the event.

DMBN: How did you get involved with the AHRA?
CV: I first got involved with AHRA in 1992 when I attended my first annual meeting in Orlando, and it was love at first show: I needed the knowledge and speedy development of radiology administration skills and AHRA was my sole source of imaging leadership development.

DMBN: What are you most proud of having done as president?
CV: I am most proud of putting our strategic plan to the test and in congruency with AHRA Mission and most importantly the greatest needs of our members. This year the AHRA Board and I worked on initiatives supporting our strategic plan. First, we have entered into a higher visibility on advocacy. This is focused on legislation impacting medical imaging in which our members can make a difference by actively engaging and exercising their duties as constituents. An example is AHRA’s endorsement of Are You Dense Advocacy Inc. and its efforts to standardize the communication of dense breast tissue. This includes support of breast density notification laws and expanded insurance coverage screening legislation. Additionally, we are working on developing strong relationship with entities with strong footprints on advocacy like ACR, AAPM and MITA to mention a few.

DMBN: What other projects do you have planned?
CV: Later this year we will be launching a comprehensive staff productivity benchmark tool for imaging, that we believe will become the standard in the industry and the yardstick to develop and justify budgets for imaging administrators.

DMBN: Medical imaging, like all health care disciplines, faces major changes over the next few years – from health care reform and ICD-10 to new meaningful use stages and more breast density legislation. What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the field, and what is AHRA doing about it?
CV: The obvious and biggest challenge facing the field is the continuous appetite for decreases in reimbursement. While this is not unique to medical imaging, it does feel to those of us in the field as if radiology has been a target for many years. We have entered the era of value-based purchasing, pay for performance, accountable care organizations and population health – all these have a triad management effect and common denominator: increase quality, lower cost and improved outcomes.

AHRA is partnering with the best practices across the nation and bringing results to our members and showcasing (our) findings at our annual meeting in Minneapolis. One of the greatest AHRA virtues is the talent among our members and the mobilization to share and network. We have members actively involved and pioneering initiatives on radiation dose reduction, equipment capacity utilization and hot topics in the field – and if and when an AHRA member is involved, the entire AHRA nation is the recipient of that information.

DMBN: AHRA ran a (successful) drive to reach 5,000 members by last year’s conference after membership numbers slipped from a high in 2008. What caused membership to slip and what is AHRA doing to keep numbers up?
CV: There are several factors that caused membership in an association to decrease at times. For AHRA, in my opinion, it has been in part due to attrition, a good number of members reaching (retirement age), and the difficulty to introduce newcomers to all that AHRA has to offer. AHRA is one of the best-kept secrets (in imaging), and it typically takes attendance to one of our national meetings to become a member for life.

Reaching the 5,000-membership milestone was a significant achievement. I have embarked on strategic initiatives to not only sustain our membership, but to continue on path to increase it. Early this year we announced the Military Membership and kicked it off with Air Force membership; later this year we hope to bring all the uniformed services on board.

There is no secret formula to maintain and increase membership. At AHRA we thrive on remaining relevant and developing educational products to meet the challenges and demands of our members on the field – we have done this for 40 years and will continue on this journey while adjusting our strategy as deemed by industry demands.

DMBN: I noticed that AHRA’s annual meeting offers a session from the American College of Radiology’s new Radiology Leadership Institute. Is there growing interest in “business management” skills among radiology administrators, and what’s driving that?
CV: This is our first “Physicians Leadership Track.” It was born out of the evolving need of radiologists to increase their knowledge of business management and to stay up to date with emerging trends in the field. Our physicians are facing unprecedented pressures to operate leaner, increase productivity and at the same time experiencing the greatest threat on reimbursement reductions. AHRA is uniquely positioned to be a key partner with physicians, and can assist in navigating those processes.